Sunday, September 13, 2009

(Vegan) Dinner and a (Very Un-Vegan) Movie

Nearing the last chance for al fresco dining. Dinner at a local pizzeria in Westwood, NJ.

Mushrooms, spinach, sauce and a dusting of garlic powder were all this thin-crust pizza, $8.50, needed. BYOB here if you imbibe.

For movies, I almost always opt for a DVD, either from my library ($1 for new releases, free for the rest), or the Redbox ($1 plus tax). But when I do go out for a film, I prefer supporting the local downtown theaters, versus the jumbo-sized, over-bearing cinemas at the mall. Right next store: a great consignment shop, Fabulous Finds.

Is movie theater popcorn vegan? Usually. PETA Prime shows us how to make inexpensive vegan popcorn at home, the perfect snack to eat while watching a library DVD.

Julie and Julia: A Vegan's Perspective

Guess who's on top of the New York Times bestseller list with her cookbook? Rachael Ray? Giada De Laurentiis? Ina Garten? Not quite. Julia Child.

As a bit of a Francophile, I really wanted to see Julie and Julia, based on two memoirs. I was more interested in the part of the film that is based on Julia Child's "My Life in Paris," and follows her as she arrives in Paris, enters the famed Le Cordon Bleu, and struggles to write and get published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie Powell's story is of a disgruntled office worker tired of life in her crammed cubicle who decides to cook her way through Child's book in one year and blog about it.

Not much appetizing for a vegan of course, aside from the mouth-watering bruschetta Julie cooks for dinner. Here's a run-down of how the film deals with food:

Everything is so much better with butter, Powell asserts, and anytime you think a food is at it's best, butter allegedly still improves it. I'll stick with my extra virgin olive oil. She's also never eaten an actual egg, only has had it as an ingredient. After several attempts at poaching one, she's in heaven. On occasion, I do miss eating an egg, but than I remember battery cages, de-beaking, and maceration of male baby chicks, and I reach for my tofu scramble.

On cheese, Julia Child raves over a mouth-watering brie in a fine French restaurant. A vegan blog writer wrote they miss eating cheese as much as they miss drinking Pepto Bismo. Unfortunately, I cannot relate. Partly I think because there really aren't any true comparable alternatives on the market that don't contain casein. No matter how many times I recall the UN Report on Livestock's Long Shadow, I still have to push my cart quickly past to cheese aisle at Trader Joe's.

Killing Time
Most Americans don't have to do the dirty work to get the animal they eat onto their plate. That often takes place in hidden worlds by under-paid immigrant workers (think Fast Food Nation). But to make Lobster Thermidor, Julie has to do the deed herself. She has them in her car's back seat, and when she gets them home, after some procrastination, quickly shoves them in a pot and closes the lid. After the lid pops off, she runs out screaming, and her husband is left to finish them off. Confronted with actual killing, I don't think many are capable of it. Of course, when she's picking up beef from the meat counter for Child's legendary beef bourguignon, little thought seems to be put into the pain the animal went through. It's just another ingredient. (A side note: the live lobsters were actually put into a pot of steaming cool water during filming, and representatives from the American Humane Association monitored their health, according to The New York Times.)

Beef bourguignon? Non, merci bien. Try Mushroom Bourguignon instead (veganize using Earth Balance, Toffuti Sour Supreme (available at my local Stop & Shop in the produce aisle) and use eggless noodles.

Someone give this woman a bar of soap and a Lorna Sass vegan cookbook.
There's been some bad press about Julia Child's views on vegetarianism, but that's nothing compared to Julie Powell's childish rantings.

In 2003, she writes: "I am also eating like a f*cking vegan with a wheat allergy and a weakness for skinless boneless chicken breasts, and...while I have always found vegetarians a bit silly, since I have been eating like one my contempt for them is boundless. Jesus, what a boring, sad life it is. Wouldn't be so bad, if you'd just throw in some f*cking bacon. Or a steak."

From one blog writer who has a regular office job in a crammed New York City office observing this one, I can only say I was "underwhelmed" with Powell's old blog, The Julie/Julia Project as well as her new one.

I strongly disagree with her view that "curse words are vital parts of the language and I write accordingly." There's no need for vile language to get your point across. I was at a Tori Amos concert recently and the crowd cheered whenever she threw around the "f" word. Takes me straight back to elementary school.

She also bewilderingly stated: "I've always been a greenmarket naysayer, and I still am annoyed by some of the smug foodies who shop there." So someone who cooks their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking wouldn't be considered a smug foodie? In fact, I'm skeptical she even did it. I don't see any photographic proof. And aren't the French so famous for their green markets?

She goes on to say in that entry, "Not pictured - Hatch green chiles!!!!! Heaven! Though it's hard to think of anything I want to eat with them that doesn't involve cheese and/or bacon."

Powell admits Julia Child was not a fan of her site, and it's easy to see why. Powell's potty mouth and unfocused whining seem arrogant. I guess almost anyone in America can get a book deal if you come up with a good gimmick.

Am I bothered by Child's views on vegetarianism? Not as much as Powell's. Child arrived in post-World War II France where every part of the animal was used. Further, as the New York Times pointed out, the French consume more fruits and vegetables, walk more, and as for portion size, "The French simply eat much less," noted Mireille Guiliano, the author of "French Women Don't Get Fat."

More importantly, to quote the Green Fork blog, "in Child's era, phrases like "manure lagoon," "gestation crate," "battery cage," or "bovine growth hormone" would have sounded even more foreign than "boeuf bourguignon" or "sauce béarnaise.""

Who could revolutionize cooking in our time? Lorna Sass, who the Green Fork blog calls "one of America's foremost experts on pressure cookers and whole grains." Check out her vegetarian and vegan cookbooks at your local library.

Bon Appétit!

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